No, I’m not going to be talking about rosé, trendy though it might be. Wine grapes are either red or white, right? Well, in fact, there are plenty of varieties whose grapes are pink-skinned, except you wouldn’t know, as many of these are used to create white wines.
Think Pinot Grigio aka Pinot Gris aka Grauburgunder, or, as it’s known here in Hungary, Szűrkebarát, after the Cistercian monks who planted the variety in Badacsony near Lake Balaton in the twelfth century. Szűrkebarát means ‘grey monk’.
Given the oceans of thin, almost transparent Pinot Grigio that emerge from northern Italy and are quaffed around the world, you’d never guess that it’s berries are actually pink. Even the more opulent style of Pinot Gris produced in Alsace doesn’t give you any indication that the grapes have pink skins. Incidentally, the variety used to be called Tokay in Alsace until it was forced to refrain from using this name on the insistence of the Hungarians who objected to its use, as this engendered confusion with its naturally sweet wines from Tokaj, whose name Alsatians likely appropriated in the past to benefit from the former’s fame.
Pinot Gris is in fact a colour mutation of Pinot Noir, so a kind of red grape in a pink grape’s clothing. Its grapes range from pinky-purple to almost Pinot Noir colour in hotter sites, which perhaps explains the colour of one of the wines we tasted. A fellow taster exclaimed, “How long did they macerate it? Two years!”
Perhaps the more traditional Friulian and Venetian ramato style of Pinot Grigio, whereby the Pinot Grigio is macerated on its skins, producing a coppery coloured wine, nowadays referred to as amber or orange wine, would give us more of a hint of the berries’ clothing.
Taking a look at four very different Hungarian versions:
Centurio Szürkebarát 2017 (Mátra)
Its pale onion skin colour, delicate herbal notes and spice point to some skin maceration. Attractive nose of mandarin, spice peach and orange. Full-bodied and layered on the palate with a buttery, creamy texture, Plenty of ripe fruit, spice, salinity, touch of toasty oak and a slightly warming, relatively long finish. A lovely wine. 84 (84)
Nádas Borműhely Vagy mi? 2016 (Etyek Buda)
A Pinot Gris that’s the colour of Pinot Noir! Initially I found it very tannic and a little bitter with plenty of beautiful spicy cherry, rust and blood orange on the nose. Perhaps a little lacking acidity, but attractive fruit, beetroot and a touch of mushroom on the long finish. The points here reflect my initial taste, but on coming back to it at the end of the tasting, it had opened and the tannins no longer felt so bitter, so I would push it up a little. Intriguing wine. 80 (81)
Villa Tolnay Pinot Gris 2016 (Badacsony)
A pale lemon wine with plenty of autumn fruit and peach. A little rustic on the palate with slightly sour acidity and some savoury, cooked vegetable notes. A slight sweetness and warming alcohol on the finish. 78 (82)
Laposa PINO 2017 (Badacsony)
Pale lemon with a hint of onion skin. Unappealing aromas of straw, wilted flowers and wet garden with some toasted sesame seeds. A touch of tannin on the palate with some floral and peachy notes. Savoury and spicy but lacking in acidity and too much residual sugar – a typical problem in traditional-style Badacsony Szűrkebarát. 78 (80)
Another pink-berried variety that’s more usually found as an opulent golden wine in Alsace as Gewürztraminer and in northern Italy as Traminer Aromatico. Interestingly, it is genetically identical to Savagnin Blanc of Jura fame and Savagnin Rose, of which it is thought to be an aromatic mutation.
The variety is known for its deep golden, full-bodied and headily aromatic wines with perfumed aromas of rose petals, lychees and exotic fruit. Alcohol is generally on the high side and acidity can sometimes be low, thus rendering the wines flabby. The name Gewürztraminer, comes from the German word ‘gewürz’, meaning spicy or seasoned, as its distinctive scent is often referred to as spicy.
Tramini under its various names is widely planted in Hungary and across Eastern Europe, where it is generally lighter, and its trademark aroma muted due to high yields. If grown on volcanic rock, e.g. Somló, it retains better acidity.
We put two Hungarian Traminis to the test, both from abbey-related wineries – Apatság meaning abbey in Hungarian.
Somlói Apátsági Pincészet Tramini 2016 (Somló)
Pale gold in colour with plenty of opulent tropical fruit, honey, grapefruit and stoniness on the nose. Rich and ripe on the palate with peach and quince complementing the tropical fruit along with some melon, caramel and orange. Characteristic of the variety, perhaps a little lacking in acidity, but full-bodied, complex, layered and smoky with a long, warming finish. Star of the show. 86 (86)
Pannonhalmi Apátsági Pincészet Tramini 2017 (Pannonhalma)
Aromatic on the nose with fresh tropical fruit, grape flower and plenty of perfume. Clean and fresh on the palate with bags of lemon, yellow rose and peach. Long finish with a touch of bitterness. 84 (83)
Korai Piros Veltelini
Despite the name, this is not the brother of Zöld Veltelini (Grüner Veltliner); it has many relations, but its green namesake is not one of them. A natural crossing of Roter Veltliner and Silvaner, it is the sibling of Neuburg and the half-sibling of Rotgipfler and Zierfandler. As a grandchild of Savagnin, it’s also related to Gewürztraminer, but the relatively neutral wines it produces bear no resemblance to their distant relation’s. Greatest plantings of it are in Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), where it is known as Frühroter Veltliner; it’s also grown sparsely across the border in Sopron too, where our wine originates.
Taschner Korai Piros Veltliner (Sopron)
Nose of grapefruit and apple with perfumed, waxy notes as well as slightly oxidised, cider vinegar character. Relatively high acidity makes it fresh and zesty, but rather lacking in fruit. A slight prickle appears on the short finish. The palate is slightly more pleasant than the nose. The wine lives up, or down, to the variety’s reputation for neutral wines meant for early drinking. 78 (78)
Hungarian pink berries, ancient and modern
And now to three varieties that few outside Hungary, and probably within Hungary too, will have heard of, let alone tasted!
Jancis Robinson’s ‘Wine Grapes’ describes Kövidinka as a ‘common pink-skinned Hungarian variety making commonplace whites’. Allegedly already cultivated in the Middle Ages, it’s widely planted in Central and Eastern Europe, mainly in central and southern Hungary on the Alföld (Great Plain), an area not best known for its quality wine production. It’s a resistant, hardy chap, hence perhaps its popularity in this region known best for bulk and table wine, producing light, fairly neutral wines for early consumption.
Font Pincészet Kövidinka 2017 (Kunság)
Pale lemon in colour with a waxy, peachy nose of yellow apple and mandarin with some floral notes. Rather simple on the palate with some tropical fruit and an artificial banana and pear drops note. A slightly sweet, short finish, low alcohol and lack of acidity rendered the wine quite flat and unbalanced. 78 (81)
Another ancient Hungarian variety, believed to have been extinct following phylloxera, Pintes was rediscovered at the foot of the Mecsek hills near Pécs in 1968. Nobody knew what its original name was, so it was renamed Pintes thanks to its massive, high-yielding bunches (a ‘pint’ is a Hungarian measure equivalent to 1.69 litres). It was then officially recognised and 12 hectares planted around the country. Now only 1.5 hectares remain, accidentally ending up in the hands of the Vinum Veress winery in Csáford, who decided they would do what they could with it, despite the fact that it’s late-ripening, susceptible to disease and its wines are somewhat rustic, and so now have the honour of producing the only Pintes in the world.
Vinum Veress Családi Borpince Pintes 2017 (Zala)
Medium lemon in colour with a citrus and floral nose along with a touch of musty chalk. The restrained palate is dominated by grapefruit, along with its associated bitterness, and some yellow apple. Rather mouthpuckeringly sour and reminiscent of crab apples, the finish leaves you with the impression of a high-alcohol cider. 76 (78)
A modern Hungarian crossing obtained in 1951 from Ezerjó and Piros Tramini (Savagnin Rose), tested at the Kecskemét viticultural research centre and finally christened Generosa in 2004, although it has nothing to do with the Portuguese variety of the same name. The variety is now growing in popularity, apparently having met its aim of obtaining a grape easier to enjoy and grow than Ezerjó! Kunság, Hajós Baja and Mór now boast 400 hectares of this variety, producing fresh, easy-drinking wines with peach, pear and citrus flavours.
Frittmann Generosa 2017 (Kunság)
A rather one-dimensional wine with aromas of ripe apple and stone fruit and some floral hints. Fresh, zesty acidity with a touch of sweet lemon curd and a hint of minerality. Cloyingly sweet on finish. 82 (81)
All wines were tasted blind by a group of journalists as part of a series of press tastings organised at the Kostolom borbar in Budapest by Edit Szabó of Borsmenta. The first scores are mine, the second (in brackets), the rounded aggregate of all tasters.